NEW YORK—“Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it’s not real,” a character proclaims in the new musical, “Between the Lines.” Based on the book by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer, this delightful, an almost-but-not-quite-ready-for-Broadway tuner is now at the Tony Kiser Theater.
Delilah’s (Arielle Jacobs) 17-year-old life has been turned upside down by her parent’s divorce. Her father, with whom she was always close, is more interested in his new wife and family.
Meanwhile, Delilah and her mother Grace (Julia Murney) have moved to a different town, and she finds herself enrolled in a new high school where the social hierarchy for students her age has long been established.
Book of Fairy Tales
Delilah finds she has to contend with queen bee Allie McAndrews (Aubrey Matalon, subbing for Hillary Fisher), her Neanderthal-like boyfriend Ryan (Will Burton), and hangers-on Janice (Jerusha Cavazos) and Martin (Sean Stack). Grace, who’s still dealing with the breakup of her marriage and trying to balance work and nursing school, has precious few opportunities to spend quality time with her daughter.
In an attempt to escape the pain of the real world, Delilah spends most of her time taking refuge in the pages of books: in particular, stories filled with adventure that can transport her to faraway lands. One day in the high school library, a place where she hangs out wherever possible, she comes across a book titled “Between the Lines,” a self-published work by author Jessamyn Jacobs (Vicki Lewis), of which there is only one copy in existence.
Despite it being a children’s fairy tale, Delilah finds herself captivated by the handsome Prince Oliver (Jake David Smith) and the quest he undertakes, which includes battling a dragon in order to rescue Princess Seraphima (Matalon). While reading the story for the umpteenth time, Delilah is stunned when Prince Oliver suddenly starts speaking to her.
Oliver, she quickly learns, is actually a much quieter sort, with little love for jousts and battles. He also yearns to escape his own reality where he, and the rest of the characters, must play out the same story time and time again, each time the book is opened. Delilah and Oliver quickly discover they are kindred spirits and long to find a way to be together.
“Between the Lines” brilliantly melds teenage angst with the struggle to connect with others. Coupled with this is the idea that certain situations are set in stone for a reason, so one can learn from experience and chart his or her own path, rather than letting it simply define one.
The cast, many of whom play multiple roles, are aided by a sturdy book by Timothy Allen McDonald, and a powerful score by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson.
Also important is the way the story mixes emotional moments with humorous ones. We get a look inside Prince Oliver’s world and the characters that inhabit it, and what they do when the book is closed.
Musical highlights include “Another Chapter,” an infectious opening number which sets the tone for what is to follow; the comedic “Happily Ever After Hour”; “Start Again Tomorrow” and “I’m Not Through,” numbers that allow Grace to expound on her own pain. There’s also “Inner Thoughts,” which has several people revealing hidden fears; and “In My Perfect World” where Delilah and Prince Oliver dream about a life together; and, of course, the title tune.
Jacobs gives a stellar performance as she brings Delilah and all her emotional baggage vibrantly to life. Murney is excellent as Grace, a woman trying to move on, but who sometimes forgets the importance of making time for those you love.
Jacobs and Murney have a good chemistry together and their scenes are particularly effective. Smith makes a good Prince Oliver, if somewhat stiff in nature, showing his own passion and dreams while trapped in a book with seemingly no way out.
John Rapson is very good in a small but pivotal role as the school psychiatrist. Wren Rivera is strong as Delilah’s friend Jules, a person who’s had her own share of problems but who has learned to face them head-on and not worry about what other people think.
The only major problems occur when some of the real-world characters go too far into parody. In one sequence, the school librarian Ms. Winx (Lewis) explains her 38-year relationship with Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
The sequence, while meant to illustrate how Delilah is not the only one who believes literary characters speak to them, would work far better if the scene and song (“Mr. Darcy and Me”) were handled with more seriously and with a little nuance.
Costumes by Gregg Barnes of the different fairy tale characters are fun to look at, while the set by Tobin Ost creates the appropriate literary atmosphere.
Taking the audience on a very special journey, “Between the Lines” offers something for both children and adults and is well worth a visit.
‘Between the Lines’
Tony Kiser Theater
305 W. 43rd St.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: Oct. 2, 2022